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Delayed Diagnosis Of Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer, with the NHS estimating it causes 16,000 deaths every year in England. But despite its prevalence, it is important to note that bowel cancer can be successfully treated. In fact, if a diagnosis is made in the early stages, a patient has a 90% five year survival rate. If, however, there is a delay, the probability of a patient making a full recovery falls to as little as 6%.

How to diagnose bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is commonly associated with symptoms such as blood in the faeces, a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain and weight loss. A patient who presents with these symptoms should prompt medical professionals to suspect bowel cancer. Steps should then then be taken to confirm whether or not this initial diagnosis is correct.

Firstly, a doctor should explore a patient's medical history, as well as that of their relatives. This is because bowel cancer often runs in the family. Secondly, a digital rectal examination should be performed to establish whether a lump can be felt inside the rectum. If there is still a concern that bowel cancer could be present, a patient should be referred for further tests such as a colonoscopy and/or a sigmoidoscopy.

Complications of a delay in diagnosing bowel cancer

If bowel cancer is identified in the early stages of the disease, the prospect of recovery remains positive. Indeed, stage 1 bowel cancer may only require surgery to remove the tumour. Afterwards a patient will be free of the disease and will not need any further treatment. On the other hand, stage 4 bowel cancer is generally considered incurable; any treatment provided will be palliative.

The need to diagnose bowel cancer is therefore of the utmost importance, as it is the only way to ensure a patient has the best possible chance of recovery. If there is a delay, the cancer will continue to grow, causing a patient to become increasingly ill. The type of treatment required will also be more aggressive, usually involving courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Lastly, there is also a chance that a delay in diagnosis reduces the likelihood of recovery, thereby shortening a patient's lifespan.

A delay in bowel cancer diagnosis and medical negligence

The complications that arise from a delay in bowel cancer diagnosis are evidently very serious. However, why would there be a delay in diagnosis? Occasionally, this will occur because a patient is so embarrassed by their symptoms they do not seek early medical assistance. Nevertheless, there are times when a delay in diagnosis can be directly attributed to medical negligence. This may happen, for example, if:-

  • A GP fails to refer a patient for further tests;
  • A GP fails to refer a patient to a specialist;
  • Doctors fail to accurately analyse test results;
  • Doctors fail to recognise the symptoms that indicate bowel cancer.

If you believe you have suffered as a result of a delay in diagnosis, and you think this is the fault of medical professionals, you need to contact a solicitor as you could be entitled to claim compensation.

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